***** (5 Stars)
Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury - Thursday 19 December, 2013
London Calling entwines a feast of music that celebrates our great capital throughout the ages. In no other production would the transition from Lilly Allen’s "LDN", to a Henry V monologue seem so effortless and this is due to the extremely high calibre of the three performers. The multi-talented actors provide the accompaniment for all the songs and similarly sang and moved with true grace.
London Calling masters the act of simplicity to a tee. The stage design captures the essence of London; with the glowing Underground sign, red telephone box and two interconnecting tube lines printed on the floor symbolising the bustle of London.
The transition between songs is masked beautifully by individual monologues, allowing the actors to create a character for the audience, meaning the evening does not just feel like one song after another. The unity of the actors is utterly admirable. The harmonies from 2 weeks of rehearsal are impeccable and the quality of sound is a joy to the ears.
It is a production that has your feet tapping one minute and your spine tingling another. The performers are constantly engaged with the audience; whether being in amongst the auditorium, on stage making us laugh or flirtatiously caressing one’s hand and singing a love song. I recommend you ask for an encore, as it gives the audience a chance to sing along and be a part of this wonderful production.
London Calling is the perfect antidote to pantomime and is definitely worth a watch!
Photo: Richard Davenport
London Calling is playing at the Salisbury Playhouse until 18 January, 2014. Buy your tickets here: http://salisburyplayhouse.com/page/london-calling
**** (4 Stars)
Old Vic, London - Tuesday 17 December, 2013
Fortune’s Fool, which could also be translated from the Russian title ‘Nakhlebnik’ as sponger or hanger-on, is the tragic tale of Vassily Semyonitch Kuzovkin (Game of Thrones star Iain Glen) who as a down-on-his-luck Russian gentleman has been living in the linen cupboard of a great Russian country side estate. This estate has been empty and crumbling for 7 years since the deaths of the old master and mistress, but now newly-married Olga (Lucy Briggs-Owen), the heir to this rambling pile of 6,000 acres and hundreds of serfs, has returned with her husband Yeletsky (Alexander Vlahos) from St Petersburg.
What follows begins as a happy reunion and slowly descends through Act 1 into nightmarish discord as the baddie of the piece Tropatchov (Richard McCabe) arrives to spread malicious insults and cruel jokes at the expense of unsuspecting Kuzovkin. The scene just before close of Act 1 is the most powerful and unsettling moment of the play – McCabe relishes in the evil whims of Tropatchov and gives an outstanding performance which manages to induce laughter and dismay in equal measure. There is a touch of the pantomime about his extreme character which jars unnervingly with the well measured young groom Yeletsky. Briggs-Owen is vibrant and refreshing as the young heiress; the compassion and grace of her character makes the malevolent antics of Tropachov seem all the more ridiculous and vile.
There is something incredibly ‘Dickensian’ about his character and indeed the entire production – familiarity bells ring as we learn that Kuzovkin is poverty stricken due to an unresolved inheritance claim which is being dealt with by his ‘lawyer’, in fact a retired signal man for whom law is a hobby. Iain Glen is wonderful as the put upon fool; too nice for his own good and clinging in desperation to notion that he is a gentleman, as do all of the men in the play.
Original author Turgenev was interested in his fellow man both noble and serf alike and as such the servants in this production get more airing than perhaps was the norm. Butler Trembinsky (Daniel Cerqueira) who is distinctly ‘sauuff’ London in his accent, and long suffering young footman Pyotr (Dyfan Dwyfor) are very amusing as a double act – Cerqueira is excellent in his capacity as the lazy butler who has neglected to keep track of just how many serfs and acres come with the estate.
Director Lucy Bailey has crafted a richly intelligent piece which is complemented beautifully by designer William Dudley who very successfully gives the sense of expanse and scale with large flown doorways which disappear into the back wall, and a beautiful lit backdrop/projection of an abstract garden, which turns ominously red as the proceedings take their sinister turn at the end of Act 1.
Mike Poulton’s adaptation has taken a number of years to travel from Broadway to the West End but as he says in the programme, this is for good reason. He needed the right theatre, the right director, the right designer and the right cast. Certainly this production is a solid piece of writing and invites the audience to dive further into the uncertain world of 19th century Russia and also to discover more of Turgenev’s writing which has been side lined in the wake of more famous contemporaries such as Chekov.
Fortune's Fool is playing at the Old Vic until 22 February, 2014. Buy your tickets here: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/fortunes-fool/